A FERMANAGH man, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 15 years ago, is paddling around 400kms up the longest river in Ireland next month to raise awareness of the condition.

Martin Gallagher (39), who is originally from Gweedore in county Donegal, but now lives with his family in Maguiresbridge, is embarking on the challenge to try and make a “positive difference” in the way people can help and deal with their diabetes.

The father-of-two, who works at the Share Discovery Village in Lisnaskea, said: “For a lot of people with diabetes, it can be hard to fit it in to their everyday lives, which in the long run can lead to a lot of complications that can have a very serious effect on people’s mental and physical health.

He added: “Being a diabetic, I know only too well some of the complications that can occur due to bad management and denial of having diabetes.”

Mr. Gallagher is taking up the challenge along with former Share Discovery Village employee, Derek Lishman, from Derry, who has lost two relatives to diabetes.

The intrepid pair will be paddling a tandem kayak along the River Shannon and then on to Upper and Lower Lough Erne.

Starting on March 12, they will be setting off from Killaloe in county Clare and paddling all the way to Belleek, before finishing at Smith’s Strand at the Share Discovery Village.

The duo expect that it will take them around 10 to 12 days to complete their journey.

Along the way, they are planning on stopping off at different towns to chat to people and promote their ‘Paddle 4 Diabetes’.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Mr. Gallagher admitted that it had been a “shock” when he was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 24.

Affecting around 10 per cent of people with diabetes, Type 1 is treated with daily insulin doses – taken either by injection or via an insulin pump.

Symptoms include going to the toilet a lot, especially at night, being really thirsty, feeling more tired than usual and losing weight without trying to.

After his diagnosis, Mr. Gallagher said he went into denial and hid it from everybody.

“I thought I was dead on, but I wasn’t,” he said.

Struggling to cope, Mr. Gallagher started suffering from depression and mood changes. However, through the “good help” and perseverance of the diabetes nurses in Enniskillen and Lisnaskea and the Diabetic Psychology Unit in Omagh, he was able to get on top of the condition.

“I became more open about it. They helped me control my diabetes, rather than having it control me,” he said.

The Fermanagh man said he wanted to raise awareness of diabetes for those people who are “keeping it in the dark”.

“I would say to anyone suffering in silence to go and chat about it. I would also say to friends of diabetics, don’t be afraid to get them to talk,” he added.

Praising the support the pair have received so far, Mr. Gallagher thanked Tesco in Enniskillen for sponsoring their food and water, as well as Roy Huddleston and Peter Spence for sponsoring the paddles being used.

To follow their progress, visit the ‘Paddle 4 Diabetes’ Facebook page, or to sponsor them, go to: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Paddle4diabetes